Why Aren’t the Sexually Exploited Welcome to Our Neighborhoods?
Madison Carlson | On 26, Aug 2013
Residents of a neighborhood in Northeast Kansas City, Missouri, are taking issue with a potential new neighbor.
The hopeful new addition is the Kansas City Coalition Against Sexual Exploitation (KC CASE), and its members want to replace the St. Paul School of Theology, which is moving to the suburbs, with a center for the aid of sexually exploited children and adults. According to Steve Wagner, the president of KC CASE, the campus will be a resource for the entire community, and will include services such as day care, job training, a health clinic, a program for those learning English as a second language, and other amenities, as well as 24/7 security. It will also include two residential buildings for victims of commercial sexual exploitation (CSE). KC CASE currently has plans for about seventy percent of the campus, and will continue to partner with other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to fill in the rest. Services will be run by groups with experience in the area. The member groups of KC CASE are the transitional living program Ozanam Pathways; The Renewal Forum, a non-profit based in Washington DC and dedicated to the abolition of human trafficking in the United States; and Veronica’s Voice, a Kansas City organization with a focus on American victims of CSE. It is one of only a few survivor led groups in the United states.
The issues with the plan seem to be related largely to the neighborhood’s image. One man says he admires the effort, but doesn’t want it in his backyard. Another resident believes it would be “foolish” for his neighbors to think about anything in this case but the potential affect the presence of the center could have on the area. A possible decline in property value isn’t worth the tremendous difference a site like the one planned could have in the lives of trafficked and abused people.
Sherry Ashcroft, one of the more vocal opponents of the planned center, says she considered moving when she found out who would be buying the former St. Paul campus, and that “Nearly anyone who could understand what we know about this facility was against it.” She neglected to say what it was they know about the facility that has them all up in arms, but others have hinted at concern about crime rates. Ashcroft also stated that “spillover” could place the hundreds of neighborhood children at risk. She had nothing to say about the child victims the center will be supporting. In fact, she said she would rather “see St. Paul’s boarded up, with weeds up to [her] shoulders” than sold to KC CASE.
The internet was, as always, the source of delightful, well thought out dialogue. Readers of Tony’s Kansas City noted that the campus would be a sure way to get “action,” and “if it’s controversial and detrimental to a neighborhood, then stick it in Northeast.” Anther comment read, “Cool we have needed better trained hookers for a long time. All the good ones keep getting killed by serial killers. Look forward to their graduation.”
Though this attitude is related to misinformation about the shelter, the main issue behind it is the lack of education about prostitution. The common misconception that prostituted persons (most of whom are women) are trash who ignored better options because they were lazy or promiscuous is incredibly damaging. It creates an environment in which victims are prosecuted while the men who buy them are often charged with lesser violations or nothing at all. The reality is that the majority of women in prostitution are coerced or forced into it, and more than eighty percent want out. At least sixty percent of prostituted women have been raped (not counting the fact that prostitution itself is almost always rape), and nearly all of them have been physically assaulted. Half of trafficking victims are minors. According to the Polaris Project the majority of CSE victims in US street prostitution are American citizens, and minors as young as twelve are trafficked into it. Victims are kept from going to the police by various means, and even in cases where they aren’t the police are often not helpful. In a 2003 study by the Sex Workers Project, thirty percent of those interviewed had been threatened with violence by police, and nearly as many had been assaulted by them. Others were sexually harassed by police, including being threatened with arrest if they did not have sex with officers. Police ignored reports and some went as far as telling the women that they asked for what happened to them. Though this attitude has improved somewhat as the government and NGOs have raised awareness about the connections between trafficking and sex work, and begun efforts to crack down on trafficking both domestic and international, we still have a long way to go, as evidenced by the reaction to KC CASE’s proposal.
Written by Madison Carlson